My Struggle With Depression, and How Exercise Helped Me Get Better
Published on November 28, 2012 by guest author: Kristina Ingvarsson

Depression is a word that carries a big stigma and feelings of guilt, shame, and embarrassment. I have suffered from depression all my life, but didn't know I was battling a medical illness until I let it go too far and got really sick in 2005. It took me two years to get well and seven years to recover. During this recovery period I learned a lot about the illness, myself, and how to prevent it.

An "onset" of depression would be like a dark cloud rolling in and sweeping me into a fog, making me feel heavy, tired and  uninterested. In my mind all I wanted to do was go out to the woods, dig a deep hole, and lie down in it looking up at the tree crowns. That was my depression vision. Every onset prior to 2005 had only lasted two to three days, and then things would go back to normal. Every time "the cloud" dissipated it was a great relief, like a sigh coming out of me, and I would think, "What just happened? What is wrong with me?"

Life went on until July 2005, when the world slowly crashed over a couple weeks time, and I fell deep all the way to the bottom of the barrel with no way of getting out. Something sensible in the back of my mind whispered that I needed help so I picked up the phone early one morning at work while crying uncontrollably and called the employee help line. That was the start of the turning point, and learning that I had a medical condition where the chemical balance in my body would get out of balance, and cause these onsets of depression.

The medical term for mild chronic depression is Dysthymia. It's something that you can carry unknowingly for a long time (years) and that usually flares up due to events in your life. Dysthymia can be treated with medications and I had to take up to two anti-depressants during a period of six months until I was strong enough again to work on my chemical balance in a natural way. I read a lot of material on depression and did some research. I also talked with friends. Some were uncomfortable, others empathetic, and a couple straight up told me that I had to shape up and not feel sorry for myself. What I also learned was that alcohol can act as a depressant over time because it blocks nerve signals to your brain. Taking anti-depressants and drinking alcohol at the same time is considered counterproductive.

In 2006 I decided to take my recreational running to the next level and started participating in races to meet new people and do something that made me feel good. That year I went from running 5Ks to half marathons. Completing my first 10 miler and then a half marathon was euphoric. The endorphins kicking in, along with the post-run celebrations with friends, brought such a great feeling of happiness that I was hooked. As I got more involved with the athletic community, I read and learned about the benefits of exercising as a way to treat and prevent depression and anxiety. Running groups and partners is an amazing concept. For some reason, you feel safe and secure enough to share your inner thoughts, concerns and struggles - not just about your training, but life in general. Most runners - and athletes in general - find themselves addicted to exercising and the community, which helps them cope with the ups and downs of everyday life.

I'm an open person, and I try to express my feelings, thoughts, and knowledge. It has been a learning curve and at times a fine line to walk, with missed steps, but I have also been rewarded with hearing many people's life stories and personal  struggles. Through my running adventures, and the past year's triathlons, I have met many people - some just for a moment of bonding and others who became lifetime friends despite time zone and distance differences. I also learned that it is important to surround yourself people who understand you and make you feel good and comfortable. It was a hard lesson for me to learn, but my happiness is the center of my personality and only I can control it.

Today I still get onsets of depression on occasion, but now I understand what is happening and can work through it in a healthy way and without taking medications. Acceptance and openness about my condition has helped me a lot. Now I'm learning how to share and explain what it is like to live with depression and how to handle it. The hardest thing about depression is that it's a very selfish illness - nothing and nobody matters - and it hurts the people around you just as much as yourself.

Depression is like the big elephant in the room when you are around people. They sense it, and can see it in you, and it makes them feel helpless and uncomfortable, even angry. When I have my onsets, I need space and seclusion to work through it. This is something that can be hard for the people close to me to understand, but I talk about it and explain what I need before or when it's coming on. I also talk about it after - what happened, how it felt, what I thought about. All of this will potentially build more understanding, but you can never expect somebody who does not suffer from depression to fully understand. Talking about it allows the people close to you to feel included, and defuses any misunderstandings that can worse your condition or "onsets." 

If you suffer from sadness and melancholy or are nervous and worry a lot, seek advice from your primary care doctor and find somebody to talk with - a doctor, therapist, or friend. Pick up something healthy for the body and soul, that makes you feel good about yourself and allows you to just be you. Remember that depression and anxiety are not chosen or self-imposed behavior.

Kristina Ingvarsson born and raised in Sweden, moved to New Hampshire after college and spent 13 years there before getting relocated to Hawaii and more recently to Guam via a global engineering and construction company. She combines her two passions, traveling and outdoor sports, to meet people and explore new places. An avid runner since 2004, she went from running local 5Ks to the Boston Marathon, and has developed the bad habit of writing way-too-long race reports that few people have the patience to read.

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User Comments
Ashley | November 29, 2012 09:52

thanks for sharing Kristina! Such an inspiration! I wish more people would turn to exercise.

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